Letter from a reformed laissez-faire teacher.

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Letter from a reformed laissez-faire teacher.

Post by joshua2004 » Wed Jul 13, 2005 3:27 am

I am writing this to clear my head of some notions I had when I first decided to become a teacher. I have decided to not be a laissez-faire teacher. If you know something about teaching, you know what that is. If you know something about teaching middle school students, you will understand my need to become more of an authoritarian.

I am all for letting the student construct their learning environment and pushing and guiding them through the learning process. But having taught in my own school and getting to do things I want to and having no one to blame if things go wrong, I have realized that there are things about an authoritarian approach that are important. And now in order to get enough money to help my school grow, I have taken a day job at a middle school.

In this job, I will have 25-30 students in each class. I have done some teaching in a middle school during my practicum and have substitute taught in many middle schools. My experience before in middle schools is that it is an unruly age to deal with and cramming so many people of that age in the same room is like playing with grenades. (sooner or later, someone is going to do something stupid)

The reality in traditional middle school classrooms is that you have to set some rules and have real consequences. I never liked admitting this. I was a laissez-faire teacher! I felt that if you have a genuinely interesting activity and care about the students, it will work itself out.

I am not saying I am going to be cruel, but I need to be direct AND understanding. I need to be serious AND have a sense of humor. I need to be realistic in order to deal with middle school students AND still care about their education.

I offer my advice to aspiring teachers out there whom are just beginning but don't have a lot of experience yet. It is okay to be strict AND understanding. But establish rules in your classrooms for goodness sakes!

Do you agree it is important to have a balance of sterness and an understanding of how people learn?

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Post by fluffyhamster » Wed Jul 13, 2005 11:15 am

I'm sure that if this new daytime job was your main or only concern, you would feel under less pressure to get things right (so) quickly; but as it is, you have your own school to finance, and can therefore not spare the time and energy that a more softly-softly approach would really need. (Not being critical here, just saying that I myself would prefer to use a bit more laissez-faire approach to a too disciplined one, especially if there aren't really any serious problems to begin with; then again, 'Give them an inch...'! :D I suppose it all really depends on the temperament of whatever nationality you are teaching, and what the school itself is like, what the old teacher did or didn't do etc). 8)
http://www.eslcafe.com/forums/teacher/v ... 0420#10420

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Post by joshua2004 » Wed Jul 13, 2005 12:48 pm

It's true, I don't want to spend any extra time on this class. But, I do think I can deliver an excellent program for them and not waste time doing it by having to deal with classroom management. But beyond that, I believe it is neccessary to establish rules and order with them. To this end, I am researching something I always thought of as the dark side of teaching, classroom management.

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Not a pretty aspect....

Post by revel » Wed Jul 13, 2005 3:00 pm

Hey josh and fluff!

I agree, josh, "laying down the law" and keeping a "pistol hung on your hip" and being "a fast draw" is sometimes the first thing that needs to be done in order to get other things done. In negociating next year's classes with the man who offers me those classes, I've had to outline an age bracket that I am no longer, at least for next year, willing to struggle with. I've marked a disciplined classroom with all ages and have found that I, myself, am not particularly good at keeping that discipline with middle-aged kids. Maybe I get the little ones before they're spoiled. Maybe the adults are more mature and get my message at once. But the ones in the middle are just so often wasting my time and thiers, and that's really hard to later justify to their parents, who are paying for the show. I oughtn't to take this risk, I've just bought a house, but well, the decision is made and I'm sticking by it.

There are certain miles that I let them take when I offer that inch. But they are few and far between. Having all students call me "Mr Arroway" was at first funny and a joke, but has become the trademark for the attitude I expect from my students, that is, mutual respect and genuine effort in our work together. The black marks and smiley stickers are incidental. What finally matters is when the adults sign up in mass for my next series of oral workshops. What really matters is when several mothers pin me down and thank me for helping their kid take the matter seriously. I am known as hard-handed in the academy where I work and that led me last year to getting all of the worst behaved classes as other teachers were unable to face them. Double-edged sword, reputation is.

Good luck, josh, with your moonlighting job, hope it helps you to develop your own school to the levels you aspire. Be hard as you want, it won't do them or you any harm. If you like the class, the work, they will naturally see that through the strict manner in which you treat them when it is needed.


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Post by Broceliande » Thu Jul 14, 2005 7:04 pm

Hi, Josh
you can't start to imagine how glad I was to read about you becoming a reformed laissez-faire teacher, having recently reached the same conclusions as you have about the need for rules and a clear sense of direction in middle school English classrooms. It's been hard for me to admit because it meant becoming (at least in part) the kind of teacher I never thought I would like to be, but the good part is the realisation that IT WORKS! The feedback I've been getting from my students is fantastic. Their attitude is much better than it used to be, and I don't think it's because they are afraid of being told off or because they feel restricted, but because they feel that now you really care. They understand that now you are wiling to make a real effort to make things work in the classroom, and they respect you for that. Good luck in your research on classroom manegement, and I hope you'll let us know how you are getting on

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Post by Lorikeet » Thu Jul 14, 2005 7:39 pm

Aw geez, my computer crashed and I lost what I was writing (it was really a great post--this one won't be the same :roll: .)

I haven't taught secondary school students, so the discipline problems I've had pale by comparison. However, there are some similarities in adult education. Years ago when our school first started getting the Soviet Union refugee onslaught, some teachers had difficulty accommodating those students in their classrooms; others didn't have any trouble. We had several in-service workshops to discuss the issue, and we were told that those students came from a much more rigid environment. They didn't know how to handle our "freedom" in the classroom. That is, they didn't know what was appropriate and what was inappropriate behavior. While speaking out occasionally might be acceptable, monopolizing the class with complicated questions concerning minute points of grammar is not. It turned out that those teachers who were clearly in charge and were able to explain the limits had less trouble than the ones who "just wanted to be friends." It is possible to be in chare of your classroom, explain the limits, and still be friendly. I think that mix lends itself to a good classroom environment with mutual respect.

One set of student evaluations years ago was glowing in terms of my teaching activities and classroom presence. However, several students wrote in the comment sections that it was difficult to hear because the class was very noisy. Duh! I had never paid attention to the ambient noise level, and indeed, in my effort to be relaxed, I was letting the low mumble get out of hand, and was just trying to speak louder to be heard over it. Since that time, I have paid a lot more attention to it, and haven't heard any more of those kinds of comments.

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Post by Sally Olsen » Fri Aug 12, 2005 7:17 pm

I think that you have brought up a very good point Lorikeet. Letting the students give you feedback often is a great way to set the tone of the classroom and help you to manage the class. You can have short and anonymous feedback once a week or after certain lessons - what was the hard point today, what was the best part, and so on. If the students are used to doing learning journals you really get good and personal feedback. You can also carry on personal conversations with the students in learning journals and debate management issues in private while giving them valuable practice in writing and stating their point of view. In Greenland they had a period a week for classroom issues and that covered the gamut and brought out issues that needed working on. Of course, they also used it to plan trips, decide what community work they wanted to do and plan parties.

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